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Delay the TANF Time Limit Cut & Protect 6,000 Vulnerable Families

In 2011, the District announced that it would implement lifetime time limits for receipt of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).

TANF is a federal benefit intended to provide income assistance, job training, and other services to low-income families with children. Before 2011, D.C. used local money to continue to provide the benefit for needy families even after they reached the 60-month limit covered by federal dollars.

After a series of gradual reductions, by October 2015 the District plans to terminate all TANF benefits for households who have received TANF for more than 60 months over the course of their lives. Without further action, more than 13,000 children in the District will fall deeper into poverty.tanf

At the outset, it’s important to remember that TANF is a benefit that is only available for qualifying families with children. Bread for the City is concerned about this “TANF cliff” and the effects it will have on our clients and their children.

Families who have received TANF for more than 60 months have already suffered several reductions since 2011—a family of three that has received TANF for more than 60 months now receives a maximum monthly amount of $153; compared to a maximum of $434 per month for a family of three who has received TANF for less than 60 months.

Bread for the City has joined with a number of local organizations to ask the D.C. Council to delay this final cut for another year. Delaying the “TANF cliff” will give Mayor Bowser’s new administration time to improve services and design a reasonable time limit policy.

TANF is not a “handout” program. The government is supposed to provide support and services to TANF recipient families to help them reach self-sufficiency. While the District has taken steps to improve the program, there are still gaps in the screening process used to determine what services families need to become self-sufficient. Some families may need only job search assistance, and some may face serious barriers to employment, such as physical and mental health problems, low cognitive functioning, and low levels of education.

Some of these barriers, such as domestic violence, allow TANF recipients to “stop the clock” while they get services and support that will help them to move forward with their lives. In our experience, even with the improved screening process, domestic violence survivors have not always been directed to the appropriate services, which would exempt them from counting time against their 60-month lifetime limit.

Even for families who do not qualify for an exemption, many reached their 60 months before recent improvements in employment screening and services were put into place. Imposing the time limit now is unfair because many families still have not had the opportunity to receive the services they need to succeed.

Our clients use TANF primarily for rent, though even the maximum TANF benefit does not go far in D.C.’s costly housing market. For those families that do not need to use their entire TANF benefit amount on rent, TANF goes towards transportation costs, personal hygiene items, diapers, and clothing. We anticipate more housing instability and clients unable to cover their basic needs if the final cut is not extended.

Additionally, families who are cut off TANF will not only lose the (already reduced) money, they will also lose the job training and other support services (since they will no longer be TANF recipients, they won’t qualify for those other programs). So they will really be left with nothing–neither money nor support services.

Join Bread for the City and Mayor Bowser in asking the D.C. Council to delay the “TANF cliff” for a year.

The Bread for the City Legal Clinic’s work is funded, in part, by the DC Bar Foundation /DC Legal Services Grant Program – Private Grants.

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